I am convinced there is a problem in contemporary academic settings regarding how we are taught to process the information we receive. We are coached in schools and universities, to criticize everything, to deconstruct the information we hear and find the hidden fallacies and the political incorrectness and stereotypes. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, but it can be if it means that we no longer know how to listen. I can think back to of all the lectures I’ve attended or opinions I’ve heard in which I pinpointed one phrase that I decided was too simplistic or generalized, and was then unable to hear the rest of the speaker’s message. I enter into conversations with people from different political and social persuasions, and I immediately qualify them as rigid or narrow-minded, or lacking a certain amount of understanding of the larger picture. This deconstruction allows me to bypass any real engagement with the “other,” and instead sit on a pedestal of condescension.
Yes, it is important to be careful with our words and our message, but it is equally important to be careful about how we criticize the messages we hear. If criticism allows us to enter into constructive dialogue, then it places us all in the position of “student,” and allows us to learn from one another. If, on the other hand, it becomes a form of cynicism that gives us license to ignore and look down on those we do not really wish to engage with, and then laugh about their foolishness in our superior (and insular) little circles, well this is just an ugly cowardliness in disguise. It is important not to allow our egos to compromise our earnestness. Real attention to another person demands risk, an openness and availability to people that may make us look foolish or place us in a vulnerable position.
In an age of accelerated intercommunication, we have a greater capacity to make our voices heard and come against instances of injustice, but we need to do so in humility. If we are to criticize, we must also be willing to listen and accept criticism ourselves. Otherwise, our voices become stale, antagonistic and unbearable to anyone but ourselves.